19 OF THE BEST WATER PARKS, OUTDOOR AND PADDLING POOLS IN LONDON
By Jodi Bartle
In this funny London city, where it occasionally turns deliciously warm - even, dare I say, hot - you have to figure out if you’re a water park, fountain/outdoor paddling pool or committed-to-the-event lido and swimming pool type of parent?
As a New Zealander, I often think that they only regrettable thing about living here is the lack of a beach up the road.
Sometimes, all you want to do is strip down and get stuck into some water play.
But with small people in tow, this can feel all too complicated - what with swim suits, swimming nappies, sunblock, towels, goggles and inflatable vests.
Perhaps the world is split between those who meticulously plan for whole days out immersing their kids in London’s paddling pools, lidos, parks and indoor swimming pools and those who will seize any slight water-related opportunity like a fountain or a large puddle and get stuck in, regardless of the bathing suit to-person-ratio.
My kids and I are definitely of the latter persuasion; there’s a time for well-planned-out swimming excursions and there’s a time for impromptu messing about in a thin wet stream, stripped down to a pair of pants and a very tolerant attitude to wetness.
Luckily, London offers a very fine selection of options for water play, and here are a few:
Southbank Fountains “Appearing Rooms” - open May to September
These are a set of quite tricksy little fountains, designed to be a bit arty and conceptual (fitting, seeing as they operate right outside the revamped Hayward Gallery) and that act a little like walls when they are fully firing, only to disappear just as unpredictably.
Perfect for running in and out of and good for those older kids who like an algorithmic challenge - don’t tell them, but they’ll get wet no matter how much they think you can outsmart the jets.
The jets are gentle enough to let your toddler have a little paddle too.
The best thing about the Southbank location is the Southbank itself - operating a wonderful food market every weekend and bank holiday, with all the family-friendly chains at the riverside ground level, with toilets, a sandpit in summer, skateboard park and good coffee at Beany Green, everyone will be kept happy.
Wet, yes, but happy.
Diana Memorial Fountains - open 10am to 8pm
Located in Hyde Park on the banks of London’s Serpentine, this once-controversial behemoth opened in 2004. Made from 545 Cornish granite stones, it was designed ‘to express Diana’s spirit and love of children’.
There were some early slippage problems and for a time the guards were a bit cranky about anyone jumping into the children’s play area, but they’ve since relaxed.
Bring the kids, a few snacks, find a spot and be prepared to spend a long afternoon in amongst the cheerful crowds.
Edmond J Safra Fountain Court, Somerset House - open until 11pm
If you find yourself with boisterous kids after insisting on an exhibition at the excellent Courtauld Gallery, simply pop outside and strip off.
The courtyard, surrounded by 19th century buildings, contains a lively fountain featuring 55 jets, a terraced cafe and a glorious restaurant if you are feeling flash.
Bring the baby and let him/her have a splash around in what can turn into a small paddling pool.
There’s been a riot of regeneration in Paddington over the last few years, turning nondescript and forgotten urban spaces into buzzing canalside social sites.
The Merchant Square spiralling fountains are designed to get your kids properly wet and are surrounded by grassy green spaces perfect for drying out on later.
There are screens, deckchairs, two lifting bridges, floating gardens, pingpong tables, restaurants, good coffee, and currently, a roosting goose.
A mix of families, cool fashion students and commuters populate the courtyard of the Central Saint Martins former warehouse space, with the water fountain for kids located alongside lovely restaurants and places to grab a proper coffee.
Over the road there are steps leading down to the canal, perfect for eating a packed lunch.
For even more fun, you can download the Granary Squirt app, where from 4pm-5pm, you and up to eight of your assembled crew can control the fountains from your phone.
Later, if your kids/phone haven’t run out of batteries and you are still there, the fountains get lit up; like Christmas, only not.
Not many parks offer water play via a paddling pool but this is a favourite of everyone, from visiting celebs who take their kids there (I’ve seen Cate Blanchett, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Hugh Grant, Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, Eva Herzigova and Jade Parfitt), those who trek there from out of London, and the people who live close enough for it to be the default afternoon lazy choice, the locally known Pirate Park has all important water play features, as well as everything else.
Near the massive wooden pirate ship in the middle of the sandpit is a swampy, crocodile-y area which collects all the water coming from a few fountains.
It’s not a pool, more a puddle, but when enough kids start bringing buckets and empty coffee cups filled with water and start filling up the troughs, it gets wet, as do they.
There’s a cafe to the side that does a perfectly serviceable pizza, and Queensway has a variety of places to eat as well as a Pret and a Sainsbury’s for a cheaper option.
This large recreational space with tennis courts, gardens and fields has an enclosed water play and splash pool area filled with all sorts of funnels, buckets, hoses and sprinklers for kids to get drenched in.
It is free, with changing rooms and a guard, and outside it has a proper playground, sandpit and toddler area. Walking distance from Portobello Road, afterwards you can head there for a street stall lunch (we love the Vietnamese bahn mi).
Open 11am-6:00pm from April to September.
The V&A Museum is brilliant for kids for all sorts of reasons - and you can add ‘cooling off in the paddling pool’ to the list.
When you’ve finished ransacking the place on one of the V&A’s informative-but-fun kid’s treasure hunts or managed to persuade your slightly older ones to take a tour with you around the galleries with the guides, step outside, reward everyone with an ice cream, toss your shoes and have a proper splash and play in the outdoor paddling pool.
The steps lead in, so smaller kids can take it gradually.
It’s a sophisticated crowd; prime the kids that the V&A isn’t a place for full-on water wars (we’ve had a few tuts over the years) but once the sun is shining and the splashing is reasonably contained, it’s a perfect inner city London pond featuring more art and design than any of us deserve.
If you’re more of a swimming alfresco type of family, London has an abundance outdoor pools and lidos to choose from - all you need to do is grab your towel and head down to your nearest one.
Here are our favourite outdoor swimming pools/lidos in London:
After recent a £2million refurbishment, this 50-metre public swimming pool in South East London had to extend its opening hours to cope with the extra visitors.
Heated year round with casual swimming always available. Booking for private sessions is available online.
HAMPSTEAD HEATH PONDS
Swimming at the Hampstead Heath ponds is a London favourite and very popular in the summer months, although these freshwater bathing pools are open to the public every day. There are 3 ponds
and be prepared to share your swimming experience with the local ducks and swans.
Situated in the corner of Brockwell Park, the 1930’s-built Art Deco Brockwell Lido is a much loved local landmark.
With an award-winning café and a health and fitness centre on site, it’s a good choice for those looking for a large open space with a family feel and facilities to match.
LONDON FIELDS LIDO
Situated in Hackney, the pool is perfect for those who don’t like their swim to be chilly. The 50-metre Olympic sized pool is heated year-round and open every day.
With sun terraces and a café, it’s a popular venue and often gets crowded on warm days.
OASIS SPORTS CENTRE
Convenient for shoppers and people with desk jobs, an outdoor oasis awaits in Covent Garden. It a small outdoor pool, but it’s heated and has a sun terrace and café on site.
Perfect for cooling off after a shopping trip, although this place is better for a quick dip rather than a serious swim.
PARLIAMENT HILL LIDO
A grade II listed Art Deco classic, originally built in 1938, but a refurbishment in 2005 brought an unusual stainless-steel liner being added to give the water some extra shimmer.
A large pool that is popular with families, it has good hot showers and a café for after swim snacks. You’re guaranteed a lot of fun at this swimming pool.
TOOTING BEC LIDO
The largest freshwater open-air swimming pool in the UK, this South London swimming pool has been popular with families and stern swimmers since 1906.
Its characterful multi-coloured changing room doors are welcoming and fresh and the café here is good too.
The Serpentine and accompanying paddling pool offer unchlorinated swimming areas carved from the main pond in Hyde Park.
There are deck chairs, changing facilities, a kiosk selling drinks and snacks and a playground nearby. Local wildlife will be sharing these waters with you too.
Part of a complex which includes an indoor pool, cinema and bowling alley, the outdoor pool is small and unheated and surrounded by grassy terraces for sunbathing.
You can’t swim alfresco here if it’s less than 20 degrees outside, but there’s plenty to keep you occupied inside if it is.
Heated throughout the year, this open-air pool is situated in 2 acres of woodland close to Bushy Park. A 36-metre-long pool with a dedicated learner pool for children, the surrounding grass areas are ideal for soaking up the summer rays.
PARK ROAD LEISURE CENTRE + LIDO
Crouch End’s 50m heated lido dates back to 1926 and although currently closed for refurbishment, they are hoping to reopen the lido again in time for swimming season, on 1st May 2018.
Check the website for details. The centre also houses an indoor pool, exercise studios and therapy rooms.
POOLS ON THE PARK, RICHMOND
Part of a fitness complex built in the 1960’s, the lido is open in early May although check website for exact opening times before you visit.